North Shields returned empty-handed from Belle View on Saturday afternoon, going down 3-2 to County Durham outfit Consett.
Gareth Bainbridge, restored to the starting line-up after coming off the bench in the midweek draw against Norton & Stockton Ancients, flashed a header wide in the opening minutes, before Consett captain Daniel Madden limped out of action through injury.
In terms of the scoresheet, Consett drew first blood, albeit in controversial circumstances. Luke Sullivan sped past Ryan Carr down the right and his shot was inadvertently parried onto the arm of Curtis Coppen. The defender could do nothing about the ball striking him at close range, but the referee nevertheless awarded the somewhat harsh spot kick, despatched without hesitation by Josh Gray on 18 minutes.
It could have been two just six minutes later. Jordan Lavery’s free kick from the right was only partially cleared, affording Gray a free header in the box that looped onto the top of the crossbar and back into play before being cleared.
Despite the enforced absence of centre half Madden, the Robins struggled to carve out opportunities against the home side.
When Peter Glen-Ravenhill did motor to within shooting range, he was bundled to the floor by Lavery, the full back’s challenge on the edge of the area not deemed a foul by the officials.
The hosts were having no such trouble creating chances, striking the woodwork a further two times in quick succession.
Sullivan was at the heart of everything, the club legend putting the ball up for Nathan Steel to nod off the frame of the goal, before winning a free kick in a promising area, Danny Craggs curling the set-piece off the underside of the crossbar with Chris Bannon well beaten.
Despite being second best for much of the half, Shields restored parity in stoppage time through the most unlikely of sources.
Lee Mason picked out Glen-Ravenhill down the right hand side, and he pulled the ball into the path of the onrushing Jack Donnison, who slammed emphatically into the net for only his second goal in 116 appearances for the Robins.
But the Steelmen were back in front just three minutes after the restart.
Lavery was the provider as an early cross from the touchline found Steel unmarked ten yards out. Having got away from Kevin Hughes, the striker still had work to do, but did well to loop his header over Bannon and into the far corner.
Shields soon found themselves two behind, conceding a goal of the highest quality on 52 minutes.
Having proved a thorn in the side for much of the first half, Sullivan got his name on the scoresheet in remarkable fashion. Collecting the ball within his own half, the 25-year-old pinged a spectacular 50-yard lob towards goal. It caught out the back-pedalling Bannon, who got hands to the ball but could not keep it from crossing the line.
Glen-Ravenhill saw another appeal turned down, this time for a trip from behind in the area by Stephen Little as Shields sought a route back into the game.
They would get just that from Bainbridge 17 minutes from time.
Dan Hawkins’ attempted clearance ricocheted off a Consett teammate into the path of Shields’ talismanic forward, who drilled a first-time volley into the bottom corner.
There was still plenty of time left to salvage a point, and Bainbridge came desperately close to doing so moments later, ghosting away from his marker to head Ben Richardson’s free kick a yard wide of the near post.
At the other end, substitute Jordan Nellis could have sealed it for the Steelmen, dragging an effort across the face of goal.
A fourth was not necessary as Consett dug in, a number of zealous challenges keeping Shields at bay in the final third.
North Shields assistant manager Andy Bowman said: “We were poor in the first half, and credit to Consett they were right at it.
“We didn’t defend very well for the three goals but we dug in and could have got back on level terms near the end.”
Highlights from Saturday’s game can be viewed on the club’s YouTube channel – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3lLBD2wS7c
North Shields will hope that their fortunes improve upon their return to Tyneside.
The Robins make the short trip down the Coast Road to take on Newcastle Benfield on Tuesday evening, before hosting Shildon in the Brooks Mileson Memorial League Cup semi-final two days later.
North Shields: Bannon, Donnison, Summerly, McKeown, Coppen (Parker), Hughes, Glen-Ravenhill, Richardson, Bainbridge, Mason (Wilson), Carr (Brooking).